Is it wrong for a faculty member in a journalism institute to participate in an event organised by the students to discuss Rohith Vemula’s suicide? As journalism students, do we not have a right and more importantly a duty to discuss issues in the country? We may have differences on issues but is it wrong to hear each other out?
The Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) celebrated its golden jubilee this year. However, instead of celebrations, the year has been witness to a number of controversies in the institute.
From students expressing dissatisfaction from the conduct of the English Journalism course, to the controversy regarding derogatory remarks against the Dalit and tribal students, an English journalism student using derogatory language against a lady professor in a public domain, and now the resignation of Amit Sengupta—an Associate Professor in English Journalism department—the events have all been disturbing and unfortunate for the country’s “premier” media institute.
Speaking on the JNU controversy, veteran journalist P. Sainath recently said that “we should be shocked but not surprised” by these incidents. The same can be applied in the case of IIMC too. We should be shocked that the country’s “premier” media institute is marred by these controversies but we should not be surprised by them. Given the way the institute has been functioning, these were bound to happen one day or the other.
The ongoing controversy involves Mr. Sengupta’s resignation. The institute has transferred him to the Dhenkanal centre of IIMC in Odisha. In his resignation letter, Mr. Sengupta says that the transfer letter “was issued without any discussion” with him or any faculty member. He also alleges that the transfer was a punishment inflicted on him for his outspoken views on the struggle of the FTII students, the Occupy UGC Movement, the Rohith Vemula tragedy and the ongoing JNU controversy.
He writes, “I am also aware that I have been targeted because I supported the solidarity protest for Rohith Vemula in the campus, organized independently by students of IIMC in which other faculty members too participated. I am proud of standing up for Rohith Vemula, and will continue to do so in the days to come. This is my constitutional right.”
“I have also been targeted because I supported the JNU and FTII students…I have taught my students that they will never do journalism which professes xenophobia, casteism, sexism, racism, and communalism. That they should be objective and impartial. Also, that they should have open-ended, non-dogmatic and independent minds, and stand for truth and public interest, come what may. I presume I am paying a price for that.”
As his student, I clearly remember that in his first address to our class, Amit sir said that you people have your own independent mind. Your mind is not an empty receptacle to be colonised. You should never accept anything without questioning it. My task here is to help you to question things because that is what you require as a journalist.
His was a class where you could explore your mind. He never restricted us from experimenting with ideas even if he disagreed with them or even if they were unpopular. Though he was pretty clear in his own ideology but he never imposed his views on us. He has encouraged us to write what we want to and not what he wants us to. He was very flexible and even encouraged us to write in praise of Modi and the present government if we feel to do so.
According to media reports, officials in the I&B Ministry have said that his transfer was a normal affair and there was no political agenda in it. The Dhenkanal centre of IIMC was set up in 1993 and the administration felt the need to appoint a faculty there and thus Mr. Sengupta was transferred.
Legally speaking, the institute has the right to transfer an employee to any center. However, it must be noted here that what is being opposed is not the institute’s right to transfer but the manner in which the transfer order was issued.
Transfer of faculty in IIMC is an unheard phenomenon. Faculties, at times, are asked to visit regional centres to take some classes. But the duration of such visits is generally for some days or a week or two. Mr. Sengupta has been to Dhenkanal previously on a similar stint. However, this probably, is the first instance where a faculty has been transferred to a regional centre. Speaking to India Today TV, Professor S. R. Chari—who recently retired from the institute—also said the same.
Given the exclusivity of this transfer order (which apparently has no precedent), should not the institute at least have a discussion with Mr. Sengupta or other faculty members before issuing such an order? Should not the nature of this transfer be questioned? Have we forgotten the cases of Ashok Khemka and Durga Shakti Nagpal wherein they were repeatedly issued transfer orders as a punishment for not toeing the establishment’s line?
Is it wrong for a faculty member in a journalism institute to participate in an event organised by the students to discuss Rohith Vemula’s suicide? As journalism students, do we not have a right and more importantly a duty to discuss issues in the country? We may have differences on issues but is it wrong to hear each other out? I spoke on the said event. So did many other students and some teachers. I do not agree to many things said and many disagree with what I said. How is this exercise wrong?
It has been a known fact in the IIMC campus that the institute was never happy with Amit sir for his outspoken views on various issues in the country—probably because they were against the present government. Does he not have the constitutional right to have his own views and express them? As long as he is not compromising with his professional duties as a teacher, is it not unbecoming of the establishment to target him under the veil of a transfer order?
Being an Associate Professor at IIMC is a very stable and financially rewarding job. If he wanted, Mr. Sengupta could have easily confined himself to the ten to five job of taking lectures and nothing else. But then, would he be doing justice to the students of journalism? Would he have done justice by discouraging students from writing about FTII, covering political rallies in Delhi, covering JNU, writing on the Dalit issue and so on—something that the institute does not want us to write about?
Resigning from a post where people crave to be— just to ensure that you don’t compromise with your principles— in itself is a big learning for any journalism student worth his/her salt.
I do not write this because I necessarily agree with what Mr. Sengupta says. Like any other human being he has his own weaknesses. I myself have plenty of them. But I write this because it is simply unjust.
Should journalism students confine themselves to the ‘five W’s and one H’? If budding journalists will not question established concepts, then what should be expected of them when they join the profession?
The vision statement of IIMC says that the institute “will set global standards for media education, research, extension and training, using state-of-the-art technology for building a knowledge driven information society, contributing to human development, empowerment and participatory democracy, anchored in pluralism, universal values and ethics”.
Its mission statement reads that the institute aims “to create a dynamic learning and working environment which nurtures new ideas, creativity, research and scholarship and develops leaders and innovators in the domain of media and mass communication”.
The introductory statement to the English Journalism course says that “the students of English Journalism are treated like professional journalists…To hone their skills, they are drilled in continuous desk and reporting work to help transform them into fully equipped professionals.”
Given the above background, what “global standards” are we setting? What variety of a “knowledge driven information society” are we aiming to create when students and teachers are discouraged from discussing political issues in the country? Is this how we—the future journalists—will contribute to “human development, empowerment and participatory democracy, anchored in pluralism, universal values and ethics”? Wait, did you understand the previous sentence with heavily loaded terms like “participatory democracy, pluralism, universal values and ethics”?
Similarly, the mission statement is terrific in its wording but is the system living up to it on ground too? Can new ideas be nurtured and leaders of media be developed in an environment which ostracizes diversity of views? The English Journalism course is introduced with the tall claim that “the students of English Journalism are treated like professional journalists” and that the course helps them to be “fully equipped professionals”. If this is true, then are “professional journalists” treated in this manner?
This is not something I am alone in saying. This is a sentiment shared widely among the students (and I am sure the alumni too).
In the institute, today, it is not hard to find students and faculties talking in a hush-hush manner about many of the recent developments.
I am perfectly aware that I have subjected myself to certain personal (and professional) risks by writing this. But I am reminded of Martin Niemöller’s immortal words-
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
IIMC is a great institution of national importance. It has produced generations of media and communication professionals for the country. It definitely deserves much better than this.